Aidan Coleman was yesterday handed the chance to become one of the youngest ever winners of the Grand National. The 19-year-old, who has never ridden over the Aintree fences before, was booked to partner Mon Mome by the trainer Venetia Williams.
Mon Mome is certainly not a no-hoper and has been backed into 25-1 from far longer odds in the past week.
Less than three years ago Coleman, whose parents are schoolteachers in Co Cork, was a leading pony rider, but is now considered the find of the season in British jumps racing – with 21 successes since his first victory last October.
If Mon Mome did win Saturday's big race it would not make him the youngest victor, however. The late Bruce Hobbs was successful on Battleship in 1938 – three months after his 17th birthday.
Williams took on Coleman as her stable's conditional rider last year and has first-hand knowledge of the National, as she is one of the few women to have ridden in it. In 1988 she got only as far as Becher's on the first circuit on Marcolo. She was knocked unconscious in the fall.
"I was told at 9am this morning after schooling first lot," Coleman said last night. "The trainer and owner are showing a lot of faith in me because I claim 5lb but can't in the National because it's a Grade One race."
Coleman may get a ride in Friday's Topham Chase, which would give him experience of the big spruce fences. Mon Mome has perhaps shown his best form when the mud has been flying – notably when runner-up in the Welsh National – and has been aimed at the Liverpool version all season. Whether he would be suited by a sounder surface at Aintree is hard to say.
The official going yesterday afternoon was good to soft, but there is a drying wind and rainfall before Saturday's race is expected to be insubstantial.
The Irish trainer Willie Mullins was delighted yesterday that Ruby Walsh has stayed loyal to the 12-year-old Hedgehunter, whom he rode to victory in 2005 and who was second a year later and ninth 12 months ago. Walsh had considered riding Hedgehunter's stablemate Snowy Morning, while Paul Nicholls had hoped to lure Walsh into partnering Turko.
"I think Hedgehunter is coming back to himself and he appears in good form," Mullins said. "He worked this morning and Ruby came to ride him. He loves the track and if it keeps drying that will be in his favour – if it rains that will probably favour horses with lighter weights."
Mullins repeated his view that Snowy Morning "jumps like a cat" but also warned: "It's a big ask because he is really a second-season novice with very little preparation for Aintree because we decided to mind his handicap mark for this race. We've got the weight concession, but we probably lack a little in experience."
Snowy Morning is now the mount of David Casey, while Nicholls has snapped up the services of Richard Johnson for Turko.
The delay in learning Timmy Murphy's intended mount was ended yesterday with David Johnson's retained rider plumping for Comply Or Die.
The nine-year-old will be one of five runners for David Pipe, whose website reported: "Timmy Murphy has just phoned us to confirm he will be riding Comply Or Die. Vodka Bleu will be ridden by Paul Moloney and Tom Malone will ride Milan Deux Mille. Tom Scudamore will ride Madison Du Berlais and Johnny Farrelly will ride Joaaci."
Tony Dobbin has picked up the spare ride on former Irish Grand National winner Point Barrow, who fell at the first 12 months ago when an 8-1 co-favourite. "He's a spring horse, I've heard good vibes about him and hopefully he'll give me a good ride," Dobbin said.
Willie Mullins's brother Tom believes his National contender, Chelsea Harbour, has a solid chance in the big race. The eight-year-old was a smart novice last term and won a Grand National trial at Punchestown in February.
He will also have the assistance of Davy Russell, currently involved in a battle with Walsh for the jockeys' championship in Ireland.
Tom Mullins said: "Chelsea Harbour's won on all types of ground but I suppose his best wins have come on terrible ground. He won over hurdles on good ground though. Some people think he might jump better on better ground and I wouldn't disagree with them either.
"We've ticked all the boxes up to now and hopefully nothing happens between here and Saturday."
John Smith's Grand National (Aintree, Saturday) Coral: 5-1 Cloudy Lane, 9-1 Slim Pickings, 11-1 Comply Or Die, 12-1 Simon, 14-1 Bewleys Berry, Butler's Cabin, Chelsea Harbour (from 16-1), 16-1 Kings John Castle, 18-1 Mr Pointment, McKelvey (from 22-1), 20-1 Hedgehunter, Point Barrow, Snowy Morning, 25-1 L'Ami, Mon Mome, Philson Run, D'Argent (from 33-1), 28-1 Dun Doire, Turko, 33-1 Joes Edge, Kelami, Vodka Bleu, 40-1 Idle Talk, Knowhere, Newbay Prop, Ossmoses, 50-1 Backbeat, Baily Breeze, Black Apalachi, Fundamentalist, Irish Raptor, Longshanks, Madison Du Berlais, Naunton Brook, Noir Et Vert, Opera Mundi, You're Special, Joacci, 66-1 others.
Nap: Prince Of Delphi
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